Oh Shit!

Ever wondered what it might be like to be in a REAL survival situation? Forget cinema fantasies, we are talking about the sort of situation YOU might find yourself in on what you expected to be a pleasant weekend’s walking with just the sort of kit most people might carry for that situation. Read on to see how it might happen, how it might feel and what you could do to help yourself, if you had taken the trouble to learn a few elementary techniques in advance .


Photos to follow


This wasn’t the plan!

If it wasn’t for the pain in your broken ankle you would laugh! This was supposed to be a time to rest your mind and recharge your stress batteries. Now it looks as if you are going to have to do some thinking, and you better think hard and fast!


So where did it all go wrong and what are you going to do now? You had been looking forward to this walk for quite a while. The main holiday season is over and it isn’t a bank holiday weekend. You have 4 days off to get out into the wilds to enjoy some peace and freedom. You have chosen a route that will get you away from the main footpaths and let you explore some features of particular interest to you. The route is challenging, that is part of the reason few people come this way, but this wasn’t supposed to be an endurance test and you planned to stay at B & Bs rather than camping.


You took sensible precautions before setting off. You left details of your itinerary and route with a responsible friend, but they don’t expect to hear from you until you call at the end of your break, to say that you are back and will see them the next day. You are carrying your day pack including

the usual essentials but no mobile ‘phone. It would be wasted weight since you know you cannot get a signal in this remote area anyway.


The holiday started well. You got off the local bus and headed out into a dull but dry day. After 8 miles of steady walking you sat by a stream overlooking a wooded valley and heather covered slopes, poured good coffee from your flask and smiled contentedly. With a drizzle starting and a cold breeze blown up, your kit packed away and 7 more miles to go, you shouldered your pack, looked to the next hill and put your best foot forward. Straight into a moss covered hole, trapping your foot and throwing you off balance!

If the loud crack that followed hadn’t told you that you had broken a bone, the pain searing up your leg, nausea and sudden cold flash down your face and neck would have!


Time to Get Real!

Now you have finished cursing and thumping the ground with your fist, you look around you. Suddenly the peaceful, deserted hills you enjoyed and the drizzle and wind you would have cheerfully ignored seem very different. Time to get real!


There is no way you are going to hop another 7 miles, or even 6 to the nearest road. Your ankle isn’t bleeding but it hurts like hell, is swelling fast and will have no strength. Your injury isn’t life threatening, but if you don’t take action your situation might be.


There is little constructive you can do in the way of First Aid at this stage. Your boot is providing as much support as anything else you could apply and removing it would allow your ankle to swell to the point where you couldn’t get the boot back on securely.


Thankfully you have done some survival training. Right now you are wishing you had actually tried out more of the techniques you read about, but one of the things the reading did teach you, is that wishful thinking doesn’t get it done in a survival situation. What you need is a hard, realistic appraisal of your situation and a practical attitude to improving it. So ….


Situation: Simple fracture of the ankle. No external blood loss. Otherwise fit. Physiological shock is inevitable but controllable. Immediate help available Nil. Likelihood of rescue low for several days, thereafter good, but you might be lucky, someone with the same ideas as you might come this way. You know your current location. Weather deteriorating. Terrain open rock and heather moor where you are but sheltered valley within hobbling/crawling distance. Daylight for a few more hours. Limited amount of equipment but it includes useful, good quality items.


Your survival needs in this situation are:





 First Aid



Priorities: Take pain killers to lessen the shock and help you concentrate. Increase chances of getting help. Seek shelter and warmth. Rest and overcome shock. Plan future actions.


You now consider what equipment you have to help you.



Taking stock you find you have:

 Good quality outdoors clothing and waterproofs

 Day pack

 Day-glo plastic bivvy bag

 Nylon survival blanket, red on one side silver on the other

 Nylon cord


 Swiss army knife with blade, wood saw, scissors etc

 1 litre water bottle

 ½ litre stainless steel vacuum flask

 23 Water purifying tablets

 Metal cup


 Disposable lighter




 Maps in waterproof map case

 Roll of toilet paper

 An apple, 2 Mars bars, chocolate covered Kendal mint cake, coffee and sugar

 Small binoculars


 Notebook, pencil and pen

 Wallet with credit cards, paper money and coins

 Toilet bag with soap, razor, toothbrush and paste, comb

 Hand towel

 Spare socks and underwear

 First Aid kit

 Survival kit in a tin (probably opened once from curiosity, if ever!)


Taking Action

You shrug off your pack, find the painkillers in your first aid kit, then wash 2 down with a mouthful of water from your half full water bottle. You realise that you could follow the standard advice, get into your orange bivvy bag, eat a mars bar and wait here. Your waterproofs and fleece clothing are keeping you dry and fairly warm but you are quite exposed so it is going to get damn cold after the sun goes down. There are rocks you could shelter behind and turf you could use to build a more effective windbreak. You could gather heather and bracken to give you some insulation from the ground. Nevertheless, it could be several days before anyone finds you and there are better options available. So, you refill your water bottle from the stream beside you, drop in a purifying tablet, just to be sure, and repack your kit.


You have decided to move down the hill into the wooded valley where you will have shelter from the wind and can make a better shelter from the rain. You won’t go right to the bottom of the valley though, because cold air sinks and it may be misty and very chilly right down there, especially early in the morning. The deeper you go, the harder it will be for rescuers to find you too and you want to increase your chances by making it as easy for them as possible. So before you move you need to let anyone who comes this way know they are on the right track, that you are close by and need help.


Getting to your knees and keeping your foot off the ground to protect your ankle, you shuffle around gathering the biggest stones you can handle. You select a fairly flat piece of ground and use the stones to spell out the biggest SOS they will make, and then add an arrow pointing towards the valley. Realising that anyone seeing the signal couldn’t know it was yours or how long it had been there, you get out your notepad, write a short message detailing your situation and intentions, sign and date it, pack it in a ziplock plastic bag that held your lunchtime sandwiches, add a few flat stones in the bag then secure it under one of the larger stones, making sure it is clearly showing but unlikely to blow away. 


Slowly, staying as close to the stream as you safely can, you slide, shuffle, hop and crawl your way down the hillside into the valley and the shelter of the trees.


In the Valley

At the edge of the trees you pause to rest. Pulling the orange plastic bivvy bag from your pack you use your pocketknife to cut a strip about an inch wide from the top of the bag and on one side slit the plastic ring it formed. Reaching as high up as you can but ensuring any branches do not overhang it, you tie the bright orange plastic strip around one of the outermost trees. Anyone looking down from your rock SOS signal should be able to see it clearly.


Out of the wind and under shelter of the mixed conifer and birch trees you stop to rest again and look around. Your ankle feels numb but throbbing. You are inordinately thirsty, the result of shock and fluid loss into your ankle, so you take a deep drink from your water bottle. The stream is close by so at least you will not be short of water. You are a few yards into the trees and just to one side is a relatively flat shelf of ground, slightly more open but below the level of the outer trees and above a steeper slope to the valley bottom. The ground is quite damp but the site is sheltered, close to water, free from danger of falling rocks, branches or trees and not far from your point of entry into the wood. This is not a bad place for a survival camp.


Surviving in comfort

Considering the state of the ground you are going to have to raise yourself from it for insulation from both cold and damp. There are two trees you can use as the supports for a shelter and near to them is one fairly large log and a couple of smaller diameter ones. The line isn’t exactly across the wind but it isn’t bad. Carefully you manoeuvre the smaller logs about 2-3 feet apart and parallel to the large log.


You then stop to sit on the log to rest for a few minutes while you finish the coffee from your flask. Pacing yourself is important at this stage. You should keep working but tackle things by easy stages and not become exhausted.


The log bed frame gives you a guide to the size and shape of your shelter. You could now wedge or tie a long branch or sapling between the trees over your bed frame and then make a lean-to from branches, or you could simply complete the bed and then get into your bivvy bag.  There is still some daylight left though, and you need to use what you have to provide what you need in the least energy intensive and most efficient way possible. Your nylon cord, some string and either the survival blanket or bivvy bag will make a quick, more windproof waterproof shelter than natural materials, and with much less effort. In this case you decide to slit open the bivvy bag. Opened out it will make a bigger shelter than the blanket and its colour is more easily spotted.


After slitting the plastic along one side and the bottom edge, you wrap the plastic around a small pine cone, about 6 inches back from the long edge of the material then secure it with cord. Then you repeat this on the other side. In each front corner of the plastic you tie another pine cone. You then secure the sheet to a tree on either side using cord from the cones you first tied in. Breaking a couple of stout sticks you carve a point on their ends, cut a small notch near the other end and drive them into the ground forward of your shelter. taking your string you guy the pine cones in the front corners to your 2 home made pegs. You then finish your shelter by weighting down the back edge with large stones.


With cover over you, you then complete the bed by positioning long branches across the logs and thatch it with smaller, springy branches for comfort.


The evening is starting to draw in now but you are out of the wind, you have a waterproof shelter and wrapped in your clothes and the survival blanket you will easily survive the night. It would be comforting and warmer to have a fire though.


The combination of pain killers and concentrating on and achieving practical tasks to help yourself is taking your mind off the pain in your ankle but you know that won’t last if you stop for long, so it is better to finish your main tasks before you stop for the night.


Sweeping away the leaves and dead twigs from in front of your shelter you gather logs to form a dry base for your fire, plus a good quantity of differing thickness for fuel. Again using your knife you make two long stakes, drive them at about 45 degrees into the ground behind the firebase and support them with other pieces of wood. In front of the stakes you build a screen of damp birch logs to form a heat reflector. Using your lighter, a piece of candle, some toilet paper, twigs, sticks and the techniques you did practise, you light a fire.

Tired, in pain, but safe and satisfied that you have done what you can for now, you fill your cup with water and set it by the fire to heat while you wrap the survival blanket around you and eat one of your chocolate bars. You have shelter, warmth, and water. You have made yourself as comfortable as possible in the circumstances. You seized the initiative and overcame the temptation to panic or despair. The chances of getting much sleep are slim but you will certainly survive the night.


Tomorrow you can assess if there is anything else you can do to support your ankle, improve your shelter and signals and start writing your best seller!